• Strategy

Transporting electrons extracellularly: sediment bacteria

Sediment bacteria may link distant chemical reactions using nanowires to transport electrons.


"Bacteria lurking in sediment at the bottom of the sea are pulling off a clever trick — using an electric current to link together the chemical reactions of oxygen in water with those of sediment nutrients deeper down.

"Lars Peter Nielsen at Aarhus University in Denmark and his colleagues suggestthat a chain of bacteria work together to transport electrons from a marine sediment to the overlying water up to two centimetres away. The electrons are produced by reactions between organic matter and hydrogen sulphide in the sediment, and transported to the sediment surface where they react with oxygen.

"This means that throughout the entire system, the top layers of sediment 'breathe' for the whole, and those at the bottom 'eat' for the whole.

"The research helps to add weight to a suggestion within the geophysics and microbiology communities that bacteria can grow tiny 'wires' and hook up to form a biogeobattery — a giant natural battery that generates electrical currents." (Sanderson 2010)

About the inspiring organism

Learn more at EOL.org
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Microbial fuel cells generated from electron donors in wastewater (charge transport known as extracellular electron transfer). Converting renewable biomass such as compost, human and animal waste into electricity. Creating nanowires in small circuits or electronic devices and connecting them to create a microscopic grid. Harnessing the tiny currents to power a monitoring buoy.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Electronics, energy, waste treatment, bioremediation

Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Lars Peter Nielsen
Aarhus University
Sanderson K. 2010. Bacteria buzzing in the seabed. Nature News [Internet],
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Nielsen LP; Risgaard-Petersen N; Fossing H; Christensen PB; Sayama M. 2010. Electric currents couple spatially separated biogeochemical processes in marine sediment. Nature. 463: 1071-1074.
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